Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Walter L. Burt

Second Advisor

Dr. Patricia Reeves

Third Advisor

Dr. Janet Dalman


Hispanic dropout, social bonding theory, social justice framework, Critical Race Theory, disproportionate, high school completion


Latino students represent 24% of the American student population (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2002, 2013). Dropout rates for Latino students living in severe poverty are twice the dropout rate of other Americans at the same income level (National Center Educational Statistics, 2002, 2013). The strongest factor that influenced those who choose to drop out seems to be related to a family’s socioeconomic status (Fry & Taylor, 2013; Rumberger & Lim, 2008; Swanson, 2004).

This study sought to elicit the voices of Latino students who successfully completed high school in a school district with significantly lower graduation rates for Latinos as compared to their district non-Latino counterparts. Through these voices, and the narratives of their high school experience, this study sought to delve deeper into where and how these students experienced both inhibiting (or negative) and contributing factors to high school completion, and how they actually overcame these inhibiting factors to the point that enabled them to persist in school until graduation.

A transcendental phenomenological approach gave a voice to this marginalized population by utilizing a lens from the non-dominant worldview. Critical race theory guided this study by focusing on experiences of 10 Latino students who completed high school with their corresponding cohort. Critical race theory enabled me to focus on an oppressed population by utilizing race as a venue for framing and shaping the world around this particular population (Goldberg, 2002). This study, however, is unique in that it investigated the phenomenon of persistence to high school completion from the lens of Latino students themselves.

By utilizing a critical race theory lens in combination with a qualitative study, I underscored not only the importance of race, but also investigated this phenomenon through a social justice framework. These methodologies enabled me to interpret the meaning of experiences from the perspective of 10 Latino high school graduates. In this study, graduates of a marginalized population were given a voice. These graduates managed to beat the odds, despite having risk factors associated with school dropout.

Eighty percent of the participants had thoughts of giving up and dropping out at some point in their high school career. Several of the participants experienced a significant event, which influenced their high school career, including parent’s deportation, homelessness, teen pregnancy, suspensions, expulsions, and repeated failures. These events were exacerbated by repetitive marginalizing behaviors and demoralizing comments they had to deal with on a daily basis leading to feelings of disconnectedness and a lack of belonging to the school community.

The study concludes by making recommendations school personnel may wish to consider as they seek solutions to serve marginalized students attending America’s public schools.

Educational systems can begin by creating processes and policies that address racism, marginalization, and stereotypical behavior. The implementation of multi-cultural programs that educates, celebrates diversity, encourages advocacy, promotes reporting of injustices, and restores relationships will create a welcoming environment conducive to learning and positive educational outcomes for all Latinos including other marginalized populations.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access